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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 13:35 GMT
UK tops EU asthma league tables
More than a million UK children have asthma
The UK has by far the highest rates of asthma in Europe, according to a survey carried out by the European Commission.

Rates of asthma in the UK are currently almost double the EU average, 13.8% of the population compared with 7.2%.

In Germany, only 4.7% of the population has been diagnosed with the disease, which can prove fatal in the most severe cases.

Here, asthma kills 1,500 people a year and costs the NHS an estimated 850 million to treat.

No-one is sure why the UK has such high rates of reported asthma.

Possible causes

Some scientists believe that diet, exposure to pollution and perhaps even far cleaner living conditions may be somehow to blame.

Asthma in the EU (% of population)
UK: 13.8
Finland: 11.0
Ireland: 10.5
Netherlands: 8.7
France: 6.9
Germany: 4.7
Even double glazing and central heating have been suggested as a contributory factor, with some claiming that "sealed" living conditions create a perfect environment for the development of allergic illnesses.

The rate among young people is six times higher than it was 25 years ago, and is accompanied by soaring rates of other allergic conditions such as eczema and hayfever.

A survey carried out in the UK revealed that almost a quarter of those diagnosed with asthma had "significant restrictions" on their daily lives.


Despite the high rate of diagnosed asthma, only 9% of UK people are receiving active long-term treatment for the condition.

And the overall rate of allergies is not the highest in Europe, at 19.1%, with rates into to mid-20s reported in Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

A spokesman for the National Asthma Campaign said that the causes of the illness were hard to pin down.

She said: "It's true that we have some of the highest rates of asthma - the rates of wheeze among 13 to 14-year-olds may be the highest in the world."

The EU report also showed the UK's rates of other chronic illnesses compared with our European neighbours.

Levels of diabetes and high blood pressure in the UK are fairly low compared with most other EU states, although the UK is close to the top of the EU league table for rheumatism and arthritis.

Overall, though, the Portuguese, Finns and Danes ahve the highest incidence of chronic disease in Europe.

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